Harlan Independent School Board talks enrollment

Published 4:06 pm Friday, March 29, 2024

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The Harlan Independent School Board met on Tuesday, March, 26, addressing issues including upcoming enrollment and legislation impacting the district.

Superintendent C.D. Morton advised the board on the district’s enrollment situation.

“We’re at that time of year when we start advertising the registration process and priority deadlines we’re going to establish to get folks registered who want to be registered,” Morton said. “We’ve already held a couple of registration nights, kindergarten registration and preschool registration. Both have gone well.”

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Morton mentioned last year the date was set for June 30. He explained an early registration date aids with staffing decisions and making sure the number of students can be accommodated.

“Last year, we did have to make some hard decisions about students at certain grade levels because our seventh grade was so full we couldn’t really take anybody else,” Morton said. “If we get people registered early, we can make headway on staffing and make some hires to help with that.”

According to Morton, Harlan Independent had the top student enrollment growth percentage two years ago and was fourth last year.

“We’d love to be top-five again this coming year,” Morton said. “That has tremendous benefit.”

Morton then provided the board with an update on possible legislative impacts to the district.

“I think tomorrow we’ll end up with a budget, and I think in the next couple of days they will really start to hash a lot of things out on the state budget and what that looks like for school districts,” Morton said. “The early notice that I got…was an increase in SEEK in both years, the second year was quite a bit more than the first year…There’s also a proposed increase to what’s called Tier 1 funding. Right now, the percentage that we get of Tier 1 funding that impacts the district results is set at 15 percent. For us, that’s about $513,000. If they increase that to 20 (percent), it would go up to $684,000.”

Morton told the board the state may set the Tier 1 rate at 17.5 percent.

“There are a number of other changes that could impact the programs, not necessarily the general fund,” Morton said. “For example, I think Safe Schools may get an $8 million increase in funding…I don’t know what that will translate to in what we will get out of that. Those are the big highlights. There are lots of smaller implication bills that affect education, but financially those are the big ones.”

Morton said he expects the state will have a final budget ready in a few weeks. He added student attendance can have a large impact on a district’s funding.

“There’s going to be a big push around attendance across our region,” Morton said. “Nationally, attendance rates are about 90 percent. There are a lot of discussions around that. Our district is a member of the Appalachian Education Service Agency…and our organization is taking a big role in trying to bring some training education, structure, initiatives and planning to move the needle on attendance.”

Morton told the board the number of students who missed 10 percent of the school year – 17 days – was too high.

“It’s astonishing the number of kids who miss 17 or more school days every year,” Morton said.

Morton pointed out research indicates punitive measures to decrease chronic absenteeism are ineffective.

“It’s really down to relationships and other things to kind of make them feel like (school) is a place they want to be,” Morton said. “But you have to have a little bit of both, because you do have some folks that if they don’t believe something’s going to happen to them, they’re going to push the envelope and just never come.”

Board member Will Miller noted there is proposed legislation addressing the issue.

“The legislature coming in – so it’s to be voted on – what they are looking to set it at is 15 unexcused (absences) triggers truancy court for grades up through the fifth grade on the parents,” Miller said.

According to Morton, attendance at Harlan Independent School District has improved since COVID-19. He mentioned he and other staff members from Harlan Independent along with other districts throughout the region will attend a meeting in Corbin to address ways to combat excessive absenteeism.